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"Halt and Catch Fire"... Anyone planning on watching?

Discussion in 'Now Playing - TV Show Talk' started by Peter000, May 11, 2014.

  1. Jun 2, 2014 #41 of 383
    jautor

    jautor Also wants a pony

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    Being very familiar with the 'real' story made that portion of the episode hard to watch without laughing... But I'm willing to let it slide as they need to get "going" after the pilot. (Same problem I had with the pilot episode of 'Silicon Valley' - the stuff they created would belong 100% to their employer, but hey, you gotta get the show moving)

    They'll legitimize it by actually DOING the reverse engineering. What was shown was them just COPYING the IBM BIOS - in a manner that was completely unnecessary and horribly complicated.

    If you just wanted to copy the BIOS - you could have done that easily from within MS-DOS - using the "Debug" command worst case. No hunting around with a probe and a soldering iron for the "correct chip that contains the BIOS" - it's the one with the sticker on it that says "Copyright 1979-1981 IBM Corp." :D

    You certainly didn't need to extract each byte by hand using LEDs, paper and pencil. And "running" the extracted code on a TRS-80 III wouldn't have worked, either... :D

    What they'll hopefully show going forward is the newly hired Cameron Howe and a team crafting a work-alike version of the IBM BIOS from scratch using nothing but descriptions of the functionality. Truly reverse-engineered. The issue faced is one of Copyright - you can't copy the work. But you can make something that behaves the same way. Now, that doesn't solve any patent issues - but the number of "software patents" in those days probably wasn't the big concern - simple copyright was.

    Jeff
     
  2. Jun 2, 2014 #42 of 383
    jsmeeker

    jsmeeker Notable Member TCF Club

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    I thought it was OK. The sales engineer sure is moody. And what was up with the lead character (the hot shot ex-IBM sales guy) doing in his home? Hitting baseballs at his window? WTF?

    $40k to start as a newbies engineer in 1980 is some pretty good scratch.

    I know nothing of how exactly the IBM PC was cloned. I just know that clones emerged. I'm not that hard core about this sort of thing, so I will allow the show a fair amount of artistic license with the technical stuff.
     
  3. Jun 2, 2014 #43 of 383
    jautor

    jautor Also wants a pony

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    Yeah, I had to "get over it" after watching - what bothered me more is folks reviewing the episode praising the technical accuracy.

    Especially when they called what they did in the garage "reverse engineering". Now, the individual techniques they showed - probing pins, extracting ROM contents, etc. are all valid reverse engineering skills - they just don't apply to the 'cloning' of the BIOS... Especially since they even talk about those points in the dialog - that IBM used off-the-shelf parts and so forth. You don't need to probe pins to figure out how it works - call the manufacturer and get the datasheets and some free samples!

    Now perhaps we'll see some of the 'real' work (just in summary, though, watching real engineering work would NOT make for good TV!). And I'm hoping they will show the sales guys demonstrating compatibility by running Flight Simulator! But I'll bet they call it a Microsoft product, not SubLOGIC... :mad: (yeah, yeah - it will make more sense for the modern audience)
     
  4. Jun 2, 2014 #44 of 383
    Gerryex

    Gerryex Member

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    Also, you wouldn't use an oscilloscope to measure the pins on an IC when looking for +5 or 0 volts. Additionally the scope was displaying a sine wave when they were calling out either +5 or 0 volts. However, at least when they said +5 volts the sine wave was at the upper part of the scope while at 0 volts it was at the lower part. Had a chuckle about all of that!

    Gerry
     
  5. Jun 2, 2014 #45 of 383
    philw1776

    philw1776 Active Member

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    Gawd as a computer EE you guys are discouraging me from watching
     
  6. Jun 2, 2014 #46 of 383
    jsmeeker

    jsmeeker Notable Member TCF Club

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    if you want it to be a technically accurate documentary on how the pc clone industry started, you probably should avoid it.
     
  7. Jun 2, 2014 #47 of 383
    vman41

    vman41 Omega Consumer

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    The Z80 machine was used to disassemble the BIOS ROM to produce the print out, it didn't have to run it. The sine wave on the oscilliscope had a small amplitiude relative to the 5 volts they were measuring and could have been noise.
     
  8. Jun 2, 2014 #48 of 383
    pdhenry

    pdhenry Safety Pin

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    My older brother, a computer engineer, was posting some of the same critiques on FB as you guys. I felt like telling him the program wasn't intended for him.
     
  9. Jun 2, 2014 #49 of 383
    jautor

    jautor Also wants a pony

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    They ran it: "Hey, we got a prompt, that's a good sign".

    Now, if two guys read 64K LED hex dumps, transcribed it verbally to paper and then typed in, all without any errors at least in the boot code to actually boot an OS, that would be impressive!

    But they really should have used any machine with a ROM programmer to just read the contents of the BIOS directly. They would have gotten themselves "dirty" a heck of a lot faster and still made it out in time for pizza and beer! :D


    Jeff
     
  10. Jun 2, 2014 #50 of 383
    jautor

    jautor Also wants a pony

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    It is just the first episode, and I had the same trouble with Silicon Valley's pilot - but that show is hysterical. I'll give them the legal/technical pass on the first episode - especially since they've set up for a real "clean room" reverse engineering plot to go from here.

    And willing to forgive the army of IBM lawyers showing up already - get that scene out of the way...

    I am sad, though, that we probably won't see them sketching out the industrial design for their PC on a House of Pies placemat... :(

    [​IMG]
     
  11. Jun 2, 2014 #51 of 383
    rloper

    rloper Is there an answer?

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    Watching HCF now...definitely not the most accurate story in reverse-engineering the IBM BIOS. Fun to see the antique hardware and sets though.
     
  12. Jun 3, 2014 #52 of 383
    markymark_ctown

    markymark_ctown Active Member

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    Caught it last night. Liked it. As with most shows, don't get caught up in the technical inaccuracies and enjoy the story.

    This is the golden age of 80s shows...The Americans...HCF.
     
  13. Jun 3, 2014 #53 of 383
    betts4

    betts4 I am Spartacus!

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    Recorded and on my TiVo to watch.
     
  14. Jun 3, 2014 #54 of 383
    Steveknj

    Steveknj Lost in New Joisey

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    Are we talking about reviews by technical people or TV critics? I'd wonder how TV critics would know about the technical accuracy.

    Remember, they have to keep this interesting for us viewers who are not as technical as someone like you and make it somewhat accurate. I understood what they were trying to do without knowing much of the technical details around it. It seemed plausible. But I'm no engineer. I think that's enough to tell the story. But I KNEW that folks here who are intimate with the details would find reason to rip it apart.

    Overall I liked it. It had a definite Mad Men vibe to it. It wasn't great, but definitely held my interest. I do wonder how they came up with the legal scheme to proceed and how it would stand up in court.
     
  15. Jun 3, 2014 #55 of 383
    Steveknj

    Steveknj Lost in New Joisey

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    Yes and no. If you're not really any type of "computer person" and you saw that this show is about the beginning of cloning the original PC, you're probably saying "huh"? Thirty years down the road, only those of us who were interested at the time even know that it happened. So the story is going to interest first those who are familiar with it happening....but how do you make the topic interesting to the layman? This is a difficult topic to do that with.
     
  16. Jun 3, 2014 #56 of 383
    Steveknj

    Steveknj Lost in New Joisey

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    Also The Goldbergs
     
  17. Jun 3, 2014 #57 of 383
    jautor

    jautor Also wants a pony

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    Oh, "technical" folks from the tech-blogs. Yeah, certainly wouldn't expect non-tech critics to understand or care about the distinction. On screen, it "looked good"...

    Yeah, like I said, I'm willing to give them a pass to get the story started...

    The engineer (having previously designed a computer) would have known exactly how to find and make a copy of the IBM BIOS in a matter of minutes. But the writers needed to explain to the viewers WHY that would bring the army of lawyers for copyright infringement. Which obviously a modern audience can appreciate (certainly more than the homebrew computer crowd of the day did). So the wrote the task (copying the BIOS) as a significant effort, so they could have the payoff of "You idiot, we're going to get sued! We have to start from SCRATCH!".


    They'll create their own work-alike version of the software (BIOS), and while we'll probably see more IBM lawyers, if they do it correctly, it would stand up in court (and in reality - it didn't come to that).

    As for the show, the history here is a very cool story - and I applaud them for attempting to bring it to the mainstream.


    Jeff
     
  18. Jun 3, 2014 #58 of 383
    jautor

    jautor Also wants a pony

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    Fiction... I expected the two guys would leave Cardiff to do their PC on their own, heading to Austin to set up shop. But looks like we're going to see them do it within Cardiff. Which means unfortunately we won't get a scene with the founders discussing whether they should start a PC company or a Mexican restaurant... :D
     
  19. Jun 3, 2014 #59 of 383
    tlc

    tlc Member

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    Ah! You've already replied. I deleted my post because I started to doubt my assumptions: Wikipedia claims Columbia Data Products was the first clone (not 100%). Of course there were several companies trying to do the same, resulting in various levels of compatibility. So maybe we're not watching the winner.

    I'm OK with fiction, but it seems like people who watch will take it for history. Fortunately not too many people watch AMC. Anyway, if the sales-guy-forcing-people's-hands story has any historical relationship, I'd like to know. It seems like somebody said: We need a Jobs-type, a maverick with a vision.
     
  20. Jun 3, 2014 #60 of 383
    rloper

    rloper Is there an answer?

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    I think Cardiff is supposed to represent Columbia Data Products...the first company to do a "clean-room" BIOS reverse engineering.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Data_Products

    And I was impressed on how HCF explained how the clean-room was supposed to work.

    I was NOT impressed with all of the rigamarole they did to read the original BIOS chip contents. It's not like a) a BIOS PROM isn't easy to spot on an old motherboard and b) PROM readers were all over the place at that time. *Manually* reading 64K of machine code straight off of LED lights on a bread board *looked* cool but was completely implausible.
     

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